Seven Deadly Sins: How to Make Sure Internal Change Agents Fail

We have watched (and helped) organizations invest time, energy and money training employees to be internal “change agents,” “facilitators,” and “improvement resources,” only to see their efforts wasted on puny results.  Here are Seven Deadly Sins you too can commit to follow suit.  Or, take our suggestions for avoiding them.

1. Make sure they are isolated.

If you isolate these change agents from each other and from the line organization leadership, they will not be able to do their job. Supporting change in organizations is a draining, maddening and often lonely job. Those who do it need the support of their peers.  And they must be plugged in to those ultimately responsible for change.  Encourage them to develop networks of support for themselves and others who champion change.  And give them access to the top.

2. Dedicate no resources in support of change.

If you don’t set aside time and money for the activities necessary to support change, these people can’t succeed. Supporting activities include:  leadership groups involved in planning the change effort, employees in groups chartered to solve problems and make improvements, training for people throughout the organization, time dedicated by the line managers and union officials, and opportunities to learn from other sources outside your organization.

3. Develop no clear picture of the “Desired Future.”

If the organization’s leaders can’t clearly identify the outcomes expected from the improvement efforts, then the change agents (and those they support) will lack direction and fritter away resources. The foundation for real change is a clear picture of an alternative to the mess you’re in. The organization, starting with its leaders, must develop early the understanding of what “it” will look like when successful change happens.

4. Do not agree on necessary supporting behaviors.

The leaders of the organization need to face the fact that change requires them and others to behave differently. Without agreement on specific behavior change—with the means to monitor it—the efforts of change agents won’t bear fruit.  People will simply keep waiting for the leaders (“them”) to act differently.

5. Avoid having a change plan with relentless accountability.

Organization change requires concrete performance improvement objectives, with specific plans to reach them.  Those responsible for these plans must be held accountable for making them happen. This accountability should be just as clear and compelling as accountability for other bottom line results.

6. Emphasize interpersonal change only.

Yes, behavior change is important;   but an organization won’t change if the focus is only on improving personal behaviors and relationships. “Charm school” isn’t enough.  Give specific attention to factors in the organization’s structure and how work gets done—its core processes—that will support the behavior change you want.  Your organization’s change plan must include behavioral, structural and process improvements, or those charged with supporting change can only scratch the surface.

7. Make sure leaders don’t accept change as their job.

Most change agents simply don’t have the clout to move the organization along.  Their job is support.  The change agent works with those who have authority over the organization’s resources.  Line Managers and Union leaders have to make managing the change process as much a part of their job as, say, budgeting or contract negotiation. They—not the facilitator or change agent—are accountable for bringing about the behavioral, structural and process changes that will move the organization to its desired future.

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